Housing Woes Force Some Families to Split Up The downturn in home sales has caused some workers looking to move for a job opportunity to make tough choices. One Ohio family split up to make ends meet: Paul Dillon works in Akron, while his wife and children stay in their still-unsold home 140 miles away.
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Housing Woes Force Some Families to Split Up

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Housing Woes Force Some Families to Split Up

Housing Woes Force Some Families to Split Up

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From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Some families trying to sell their homes are caught in a bind due to the downturn in the U.S. housing market. It's not just that they can't collect the amount they think their house is worth. In some cases, there are simply no buyers. And that's forcing some people to turn down jobs in other cities or to live apart.

NPR's David Schaper spent time with one family in this predicament.

BLOCK: All right, guys, find your - guys, all the way upstairs, please, for jammies.

SCHAPER: The nightly bedtime ritual for the Dillon family in Toledo, Ohio, has all the usual elements. The four kids wash up, put on pajamas, read a story or two, and then there's this.


BLOCK: And that's my husband calling.

SCHAPER: It's the nightly phone call.

BLOCK: Makayla, Keegan, Brody and Riley, Daddy's on the phone.

U: I want to talk to him.

SCHAPER: Mom Nannette Dillon says it's the high point of the day.

BLOCK: Oh, it's huge. They love when their dad calls, or whenever they get him. And sometimes, I will take them into school in the morning so they get to call him on the cell phone, and that's how we know each other now.

SCHAPER: A little over a year ago, Paul Dillon was downsized out of a management job with a company just outside of Detroit. After eight months, he landed a better job 140 miles away in Akron, Ohio. He moved there in November. Nannette Dillon says she immediately put the Toledo house on the market thinking she'd be able to move to Akron over Christmas break. She quickly found out the real estate market is colder than the January winds off Lake Eerie.

BLOCK: When we put the house on the market in November, there was nothing. December brought very few. January brought, you know, a few more trickles through. And we did open houses.

SCHAPER: In almost six months on the market, only about 15 prospective buyers have been through the Dillons' four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home. Nannette says it has a big yard, it's in a great neighborhood with good schools, but so are about 50 other nearby homes up for sale. At $240,000, it's 30 grand less than what similar homes in the area were going for three to four years ago. But the Dillons have had no offers. Even some who have accepted offers aren't happy.

BLOCK: Yeah, my house price declined.

SCHAPER: Dana Johnson, chief economist for Comerica Bank, isn't immune. He lost a substantial amount of money on his house when he was transferred from Michigan to Texas last year. Nationwide, the number of unsold homes is higher now than any time in the past 18 years, and prices continue to fall. In fact, Johnson says the housing market is preventing some people from leaving the poor Michigan economy for better opportunities.

JOHNSON: I bet there's a fair number of people who've accepted buyouts at the auto companies, for example, who would like to relocate but are recognizing that the - they would have to take such a big hit on the value of their house that they're inclined to sort of hang tight and wait for the housing market to stabilize.

SCHAPER: And there's growing evidence that fewer people are making work-related moves. Census Bureau figures show that the number of people moving from one state to another dropped 27 percent last year, following three straight years of double-digit increases. ERC Worldwide, a workforce mobility association, says 70 percent of its members cite the poor housing market as the main reason their employees are averse to transfers. Many companies are reducing the number of employees they transfer. ERC's Sandy Taraszki says those that do often try to ease employees' burdens.

BLOCK: Essentially, what they're saying is that if your house doesn't sell within this certain period of time, we will pay you this amount of money to purchase your home so then you can move on.

SCHAPER: But that can backfire, too. By January, the moving and relocation services firm SIRVA accumulated more than 1,200 unsold homes it purchased from its clients. SIRVA filed for bankruptcy in February. Regardless of whether they can sell their home, Nannette Dillon says she and her kids will be moving from Toledo to Akron this summer.

DILLON: It's not all about the money. You need to be happy. And for us, we're making the decision that our family needs to be together.

SCHAPER: For all of them to be together under one roof, Dillon says, will probably mean living in a smaller house or even in an apartment in Akron if their Toledo house still doesn't sell.

David SCHAPER, NPR News.

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